As a recent University of Oregon (UO) alum, it’s my duty to bleed green and yellow. Like many other UO students and alumni, I look forward to the UO football season from February until September. This year was no different. The UO football squad kicked off its season with a major nationally televised game against the Boise State Broncos. Facebook and Twitter were over-updated with hundreds of game predictions and hopes for the big game.
And then, the game was live. UO started off to a horrible first half, and never quite rose above it. There were disappointed Duck fans everywhere. But, as Duck fans, we have lost before, and it was nothing we couldn’t bounce back from.
Then the crisis occurred. One of Oregon’s running backs, Lagarrette Blount, got into an altercation with another Boise State player. Blount ended up punching and knocking down the Boise State player. UO coaches and fellow teammates held him back. And then he struck again, going at Boise State fans in a rage. Here’s a video of the incident:
The bounce back from the loss was now the least of UO’s worries. The UO football team was breaking in a new head football coach, Chip Kelly, as well as a new athletic director, Mike Bellotti. This incident spread over ESPN and sports networks around America. Kelly and Bellotti knew they were in the public’s hot seat. This violent act not only showed poor sportsmanship, but also affected the entire image of the UO athletic department, one in which was in high regard previous to this classless act.
This is where the PR crisis communication steps in. As new athletic leaders, Kelly and Bellotti knew they had to make a decision that would ease the enraged public and show support for the UO athletic department. The first PR mistake occurred when Blount interviewed with ESPN directly after the incident. Not only is Blount a terrible interviewee, but he was also in an emotional state. Kelly should have stepped up directly after the event and spoke about the incident. Bellotti and Kelly came to a decision within the next 24 hours to suspend Blount for the remainder of the season, yet keep him on scholarship at UO.
The American public has shown two reactions to this: one side says this is far too harsh of a punishment, and the other side says Blount shouldn’t even be considered for his scholarship. Here’s the thing: If this hadn’t been a nationally televised game and the media hadn’t blown the incident up, Kelly and Bellotti wouldn’t have made such a decision. As representatives of the UO, the UO football team and the UO athletic department, their names were on the line and they were required to take action in order to save face. Realistically, in any other situation, Blount most likely would have been suspended for a few games, not the whole season. This was a PR decision that was necessary to save the UO’s reputation.
Lets just hope for a calm remainder of the season.